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Talkin' Smack: Bustin' Freestyle

How NAB 2002 bodes for the industry By Dave Nagel
Our industry has been in a slump for more than a year now. Industry commentators and economists all have their own views of where we're headed and how soon we'll be out of it, based on certain economic indicators, such as unemployment, layoffs, consumer spending and the like. Me, I base the state of our industry on how much free stuff I pick up on a trade show floor. And judging from what I brought back with me from this year's NAB convention, I'd say we have a long way to go.

The quality, creativity and volume of the tchotchkes at a convention say everything about how well an industry is performing. At NAB 2000, there was so much of it that I could actually pick and choose the things I felt like taking home with me. The industry had just gotten a fresh injection of optimism from Apple's "desktop video revolution," and the future looked quite profitable. In fact, it was a record year for sales of professional-level digital video equipment. It was the year of T-shirts, Yo-Yos, plastic lightsabres, travel alarm clocks and personalized bottles of whiskey. Primo stash, even for connoisseurs of trade show freebies.

But as with any revolution, the desktop video variety requires funding, something it's lacked for a couple of years now. And vendors are clearly feeling the pinch. NAB 2002 was the convention of ballpoint pens and Jolly Ranchers, clearly indicating that few companies have any spare cash to spend on promotional giveaways, which means, simply, they have very little cash at all.

And this means, of course, that we're not doing well, despite numerous predictions that we'd have been out of this downturn by now. When I set out on the road for this year's NAB, I was picturing my bags overladen with goodies for the kids, reflecting the renewed optimism so many in our industry have tried to portray. Instead, practically nothing. It's a sad commentary on a business that looked so promising just two years ago.

But it wasn't just the dearth of tchotch. Attendance was down again at this year's convention, and, with few exceptions, spirits seemed down as well. And in case you didn't notice, there wasn't a whole lot of new product announced at this year's NAB either. According to research from SCRI, broadcasters and digital video professionals plan to increase their spending this year following a major downturn in spending in 2001. But they might not have a whole lot to spend on, as vendors hold off on new product releases pending signs of a stronger economy.

As with the last few NAB conventions, the Macintosh digital video editing platform dominated the news. But even on the Mac, new products were hard to find. Vendors seem to be pinning their hopes on the end of this quarter and into summer, announcing products that will come to market this month through July.

On the hardware side, Digital Voodoo clearly showed the most optimism with the announcement of about a ka-thousand new editing and graphics boards that will be arriving this quarter, including HD and SD boards, output-only boards and major updates to their existing products. Pinnacle Systems announced support for Mac OS X with its CineWave systems in the near future. And AJA Video Systems entered the Mac market with a shipping Kona-SD editing board for Mac OS X and a pending Kona-HD board.

Apple itself led announcements on the software side, with the release of DVD Studio Pro 1.5 and Cinema Tools for Final Cut Pro. The company also said it would be updating Final Cut Pro in the near future and also showed off Shake for the first time as an Apple-branded product, though there was no comment on an actual release date or pricing. (This was not the first time Shake has been shown off on OS X. Nothing Real, the original developer, offered demos of a pre-alpha version back in January 2001.)

On the motion graphics front, Adobe announced their Plug-In Power Pack for After Effects 5.5. And Boris FX, of course, launched their Continuum Complete package of effects for AE.

There were also the various new FireWire devices and disk drives, but not a whole lot given that this was supposed to be the biggest event of the year in this market and, arguably, the most strategic place to launch new video editing products. It all points to a professional creative market that just isn't bouncing back as quickly as anybody had hoped. Of course it will bounce back eventually. Nobody doubts the long-term viability of the creative production market. We're the front end for the entire American economy! You lose us, you pretty much lose everything.

The question is one of timing. So when will we come out of this tchotchke slump and, therefore, the general slump in the digital video business? Well, of course, it will take another major convention before I can weight my goodie bag to accurately gauge how far the industry is coming along, and we won't see another one of those for a few months now.

Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications. You can reach him at dnagel@digitalmedianet.com.

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